This is the northeast corner of State and Chicago. It doesn’t look at all the way it did 30 years ago when Sal and I were students at Moody. The neighborhood was a lot scarier then — the northwest corner was a hangout for a group of total sleezebags. There was a McDonald’s on the corner in the photo, right up against the sidewalk. Next to it, and sharing a wall with it, was a Burger King (where the McDonald’s building is now). The fancy subway entrance wasn’t there either.
Just before Christmas break my senior year, I took Sally to this McDonald’s for supper. We’d been dating about two months, but only for the past few weeks had it been exclusive. I wanted to know if she was interested in continuing and developing the relationship, so I asked her if she thought we “had potential.” The question embarrassed her, but she shyly admitted that she did. We left for break, and when we got back to school in January, we hung out together every chance we had and, in June, got engaged.
But as thrilling as that conversation was, it wasn’t the most exciting thing to happen on this corner. Not by a long shot. It was about 10 months later. We were engaged. I had graduated and was attending Trinity and working part-time. Sal was still at Moody. She walked off campus one day at lunch and was returning right along this stretch of sidewalk. As she passed the McDonald’s, a guy came running around the corner from State Street and pointed a gun at her. He yelled something, but Sal ignored him and kept on walking. He yelled again, then hit her on the back of the head with the gun. Because she was walking, it was just a glancing blow. Right then another guy came running around the corner yelling, followed by a cop. The guy with the gun took off, and Sal walked back to school.
When Sal called me that evening and told me what had happened, I got to thinking about it. If she had stopped, she probably would have been a hostage. If she had lashed out or run away, she very well might have been shot. But the one thing a man with a gun doesn’t expect is to be totally ignored. I figure that’s what saved her life.